Sarah Farrell talks to Kimberlie Hamilton, who lives in Northern Scotland and is the author of Rebel Cats! and Scotland’s Animal Superstars. Here she talks about her new book, Rebel Dogs!
Rebel Dogs! tells the stories of dogs throughout history who have done amazing things. Why did you decide to write about that topic and how did you decide which dogs to write about?
I love animals and I love biographies, and the thought of putting those passions together really appealed to me. So I started doing research and found some great stories about dogs, including many that I felt were ‘under the radar’ and deserved more recognition. One of my challenges was to narrow all my favourite stories down to a mere 30! I tried to make the final list as diverse as possible, featuring different countries, time periods, breeds and types of stories.
There are so many amazing stories documented throughout the book! Which is your favourite?
That is such a hard question! I guess the ones that tug my heartstrings most are the dogs that have done something heroic or overcome great odds. One dog that accomplished both was Togo, the unsung hero of the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaska. He was part of a life-or-death relay of sled dog teams that battled super tough winter conditions to get medicine to some children with diphtheria. A lot of people said Togo was too small and old, but he was also smart and determined and a born leader. He led the longest, fastest and most dangerous leg of the relay, but another sled dog – Balto – ended up getting all the glory. To those in the know, Togo was the true hero of the successful serum run, and that’s why I wanted to tell HIS story.
You’ve now written collections of stories and facts about amazing cats and amazing dogs, but which animal do you prefer?
I honestly love ALL animals, so I’d have to say that the animal I prefer most is any animal that needs care and compassion. That’s why I’m donating part of the royalties from each of my books to worthy UK animal charities – Cats Protection for “Rebel Cats!” and the PDSA for “Rebel Dogs!” My dream is to someday have my own animal sanctuary, where animals that are homeless or abused will be safe and loved for the rest of their days.
The illustrations are all absolutely beautiful and so individual! How did it feel to see the whole book come together for the first time?
That was actually one of the best parts of the entire publishing experience for me. The design team at Scholastic UK gave me samples of 15 different illustrators’ work and asked me to assign two dogs and two cats to each artist. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed doing that, deciding which artist’s style might best capture the unique personality of each animal. There were also two more artists, one for the cover and another for all the cute “spot” illustrations. It literally took a village to create the Rebel books! To see and hold each of my books for the first time, those are moments I will never forget. It’s every author’s dream.
There is such an incredible range of information in the book, from stories and quick facts to top tips and glossaries! How do you see the book being used in the classroom?
There are so many ways to use these books as colourful and fun learning tools. Teachers can approach these stories from all sorts of angles, such as reading skills, art, history and geography. I also like to encourage children to read the stories aloud to their pets. Yes, really! Dogs and cats are great listeners because they never judge or laugh or criticize, and they’re happy to let kids go at their own pace. That’s a huge deal for children who might feel self-conscious reading aloud in front of other people.
At the back of the book, it mentions that you love to write entertaining non-fiction books. What is it about non-fiction that appeals to you?
I love non-fiction because, for me, knowing that a story actually happened makes it even more special. Once upon a time, I was a screenwriter in Los Angeles, but I soon realized there were things in real life that were even more fantastic and mind-boggling and heart-wrenching than anything I could possibly make up. If you are open-minded and aware, and really listen and observe, the world can be a constant source of magic and wonder.